The country’s cultural, traditional, and scientific center, Krakow is Poland’s second-largest city and its former capital. Due to its rich history, Krakow has an exceptional heritage, be it historical, cultural, or architectural. The historic center of Krakow is even a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A visit to Krakow will allow you to take a leap into the history of Central Europe and Poland’s thousand-year-old traditions. In addition to historical monuments and buildings, Cracow offers you historical frescoes, an exceptional culinary tradition, and a pleasant festive atmosphere.
If you are wondering what to do in Krakow during your stay, here is the answer with the 12 must-see places to visit in Krakow!
1- The former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp
Not far from the city of Krakow is the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Frightening, moving, and dark, a visit to this place will allow you to take the measure of the awful drama that Europe suffered during the Second World War, the horrors suffered by the Jews and other minorities under the Nazis.
The memorial, as well as the museum, is an hour’s drive from the city center. Many tours are offered to this place of remembrance.
2- Wawel Castle
Located on the hill of the same name, the Castel of Wawel overlooks the Old Town and the Vistula below. It is a magnificent complex of different buildings, fortifications, and churches, a mixture of several styles: Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque, and even Rococo! This castle was once home to the kings and queens of Poland. A visit to it will allow you to discover the past glory of Krakow.
At the foot of the castle, on the banks of the Vistula, you can also admire the legendary Wawel Dragon, or at least its statue, which even spits fire: an amazing attraction to visit in Krakow.
3- The Jewish quarter of Kazimierz
Before the Second World War, one-third of the population of Krakow was Jewish. At that time, Kazimierz was the Jewish quarter of the city, located south of the Old Town. Today, many efforts are being made to preserve the Jewish heritage of this district. Thus, many historic buildings and synagogues can be observed during your visit.
Despite the disasters of the past, the area is now very lively and dynamic, with typical and charming restaurants, street art, and art galleries. The local community is trying to revive Kazimierz, and it’s working! It is therefore a unique place and a must-see if you want to visit Krakow. For a quick bite to eat in the neighborhood, go to Plac Nowy, around Okrąglak (the Rotunda), to sample a Zapiekanka, a local specialty. It is half a baguette-cut all the way through, garnished with butter or olive oil. On top, you can choose what to put: mushrooms, tomatoes, ham, chicken, onions… The whole is sprinkled with cheese and baked in the oven.
4- Mound of Kościuszko
The Mound of Kościuszko was erected by the people of Krakow in 1823 to honor the national hero Tadeusz Kościuszko. This monument is inspired by the other prehistoric mounds that overlook the city: the mounds of Krak and Wanda, which can also be visited in Krakow. At the top, visitors enjoy a magnificent panorama of the city. On clear days, it is even possible to admire the Tatra Mountains to the south!
To gain height and breathe cleaner air in Krakow, you can also head for the Kopiec Krakusa. You can get there on foot after crossing the Kladka Bernatka bridge or by taking trams 3 and 24 to the “Pow” stop.
5- Main Market Square
Krakow, Poland, main market square, top view.
In the heart of Krakow’s Old Town, a truly picturesque historic center, you will find the beautiful and huge Market Square, also known as The Rynek! It is divided in two by the Cloth Hall, which also houses a folk art museum.
On the east side, you can admire the fabulous Basilica of Sainte-Marie, whose two arrows rise to the sky. A blend of Baroque, Gothic, and New Art, the basilica is one of the most emblematic and sumptuous monuments of the historic city!
On the other side, you can contemplate the Town Hall Tower, another magnificent building in the Old Town. The Market Square is an excellent starting point for visiting Krakow.
6- The Wieliczka Salt Mines
It would be a shame to visit Krakow without exploring the Wieliczka Salt Mines! Open since the Middle Ages, these mines are one of the many Polish sites listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. On the program of the visit: underground stairs, crystal chambers, wonderful salt monuments, and fabulous lakes in the heart of the depths. Visiting the Wieliczka Salt Mines is a real journey to the center of the Earth, lasting more than two hours!
7- Planty Park
Surrounding the Old Town, Planty Park is absolutely sublime. If you are visiting Krakow, we invite you to take a tour and enjoy a delightful stroll around the historic city. Also, take the opportunity to relax on one of the many benches and watch the tumultuous local life!
8- Wawel Cathedral
Also known as the Basilica-Cathedral of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslas of Krakow, this monument has been destroyed and rebuilt three times. It is one of Poland’s most important historical monuments. Like the historic center of Krakow, the Cathedral has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1978. A true national sanctuary, many Polish kings, queens, and poets are buried here. When you visit Wawel Castle, you can visit the Cathedral independently by booking your ticket online.
9- Oskar Schindler’s factory
Apart from its appearance in the film “Schindler’s List”, Oskar Schindler’s factory is one of the most popular places in Krakow. A visit to this must-see will allow you to discover how this Nazi industrialist saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. The permanent exhibition “Krakow under Nazi Occupation, 1939-1945” will immerse you in the history of Krakow and the Jewish ghetto during World War II. It is possible to take a guided tour of Oskar Schindler’s factory.
10- The Barbican
Built-in the 15th century to protect the city, especially in the face of the Ottoman threat, this fortress is a must-see in Krakow! A true marvel of medieval military architecture, it is one of the best-preserved barbicans in Europe.
11- The Old Synagogue (Stara Boznica)
The Old Synagogue is one of the oldest synagogues in Poland. Its interior may seem disappointing, given that it was ransacked by the Nazis, destroyed, and reformed many times, but it does not detract from the historical value of the place. You can learn more about the history of the Jews in Krakow through the liturgical elements and ancient documents it houses.
Other things to see in and around Krakow :
If you are still wondering what to do in Krakow, here are more attractions to visit and activities to enjoy in and around the city:
Dine in the picturesque and traditional restaurant, Pod Wawelem, with its typical Polish atmosphere and dishes!
Discover the St. Florian’s Gate, north of the Old Town, a remnant of the fortifications surrounding Krakow.
Enjoy life along the Vistula. The green banks of the river are very lively in summer and host musical and festive events.
Admire the sublime Church of St. Joseph, south of the Jewish Quarter, one of the most magnificent neo-Gothic buildings in Poland.
Not far from Krakow is the Ojcow National Park, one of the most beautiful in the country, with cliffs, ravines, dense forests, and many small caves – a great introduction to Polish nature and landscapes!
Visit the historic Polish village Tyniec and its abbey, located about 15 kilometers from the city center of Krakow.
Visit Zakopane, about two hours drive from Krakow, it is the winter sports capital of Poland!